I carried a book as I walked: Immortal Poems of the English Language, an Anthology, edited by Oscar Williams. My parents had a copy lying around the house when I was a child.

I read every night before bed at home, and expected that I would have time for many books on my walk. But how many books can one man carry? The foods you want to pack on a walk are concentrated, dehydrated, freeze-dried or otherwise high-calorie and low-volume.That was my design for my books–for my single book–too.

In fact I hardly had a moment to spare for poetry, really. My evenings were extremely social, or equally tired. But on the morning  of May 15–and a fine clear morning it was, after a tempestuous night of wind and conversation and a boatload of fine port wine–I have a hangover, and the companiponship of Robert Browning. 

Round the cape of a sudden came the sea,

And the sun looked over the mountain’s rim:

And straight was the path of gold for him

And the need of a world of men for me.


I am leaving this morning on my long walk home, from Philadelphia to New Hampshire.

Daily blogging is not a chore I choose, but I will post a couple of photos daily, on Instagram, which will also appear here, and on facebook. They are geotagged, if you’re concerned with my whereabouts.  Or want to look for me on the road.

The Question Concerning Technology

I bought a new phone the other day. Herbert Welsh, walking from Philadelphia to New Hampshire a hundred years ago, would have called my old phone a wonder.  But my LG Optimus S was aged and overloaded, and could do nothing but make phone calls, send and receive texts, and show me exactly where I was, anytime, anywhere, on a map.

That’s all. Back in 1915, that would have seemed a miracle.  One hot afternoon in 1915, out of cash in Middletown, New York, stranded in the “financial desert” along the road from Port Jervis to Newburg, Welsh was saved when a local merchant advised him:

“I’ll tell you what you do; ‘phone your bank in Philadelphia to wire you that money and you’ll have it within an hour” A bright and happy thought, surely, and how stupid I was not to have found that out myself. It worked like a charm, and here’s where having an expert telephonist like Dorothy Whipple came in handy. In a moment she was conversing easily with [the Philadelphia banker]…and my mind was in a moment set completely at rest. I blessed the long-distance telephone which could do such wonders.

Dorothy, like the millennial in your office, who not only knows what Meerkat does but knows what to do with it, could take full advantage of one of youth’s blessings: easy familiarity with technology.

We who are old have to figure out for ourselves, “What kind of technology do we want use?”

My walk will be not one of those stunts where you try to live like it’s 1900.  In something as fundamental as my shoes, I will be taking full advantage of Goretex, Otholite and Vibram. And I can’t imagine how I could present myself fit for dinner–after a 20-mile walk–in anything other than light-weight quick-dry nylon clothing.

But in the related technologies of communications and navigation I will be choosing restraint. Herbert Welsh relied on printed maps to find his way, and the US Mail to keep in touch–he wrote postcards to friends and letters for publication to the Philadelphia Public Ledger.

Walking in May 2015, I am choosing to bring a series of pages torn from old DeLorme Atlases, back issues of National Geographic, and my collection of USGS 7.5′ quadrangles. My antiquarian fondness for printed maps may seem quaint, but it is not unconsidered. I have earned, after all, an academic degree in geographic information systems.

172px-HeliocentricTo find my place on a map is a skill. Here is the world, where am I in it? My GPS, which can instantly create a map with me at its center, starts with me and creates a world around me. But as Copernicus’s mom, and mine, used to say, “The world doesn’t revolve around you, you know.”

I also am choosing not to blog my walk. Writing these anticipatory pages the last few months has made it clear to me that I would spend way too much mental and emotional energy in such an endeavor.  But I will take a photograph or two every day, attach them to a GPS map and post them on Instagram, so  that anyone who’s curious can follow me–and maybe even find me if I’m passing through your neighborhood.

At the heart of my walk, a conflict between solitude and sociability confronts me. I plan to spend eight hours a day alone and afoot. But I also plan to eat and sleep almost every night with people: with strangers from Couchsurfing, with friends new and old, with relatives I haven’t seen in decades–that’s a lot more companionship than I’m accustomed to.

My daughter (who used to laugh at my intellectually challenged “smart”phone) texted me (of course!) a warning when I got my promising and powerful  Moto X: “Don’t get too download happy–you probably feel like you have more space than you know what to with!”

I replied that I wasn’t filling that space fast, because “I kind of enjoy having so much empty memory.” A phrase which, as I texted it, seemed not to make much sense, but which has grown on me. Empty memory is something worth cultivating, at almost sixty years old, and a good response to the question concerning technology, too.


(Day Twenty) Hudson River State Hospital, Poughkeepise

My route will take me several leagues out of my way, and out of Herbert Welsh’s way, on a northwesterly detour to the old Hudson River State Hospital in Poughkeepsie, New York.HudsonRiverStateHospital


Today this evocative ruin of a high Victorian Gothic masterpiece, built in 1873, is a haunting setting for videos of intrepid urban explorers

Around 1959, my father, Jack Statt, was here.

I try to write with precise words, and am conflicted about that plain  phrase “Jack Statt was here.” Was my father an inmate? A patient, a prisoner, a guest, a case, a convict or a resident? What do you call someone who was arrested and incarcerated, in 1959, for having sex with man, or with a boy? Deviant, pervert, invert, pedophile, queer?

I called him Daddy. The rolling green lawns, stately cedars, winding paths and river views of the Hudson River State Hospital are among my deepest memories. I do not recall that I entered the building on visiting days. These were my toddler days, before I had really learned to walk.

This place was a psychiatric hospital, an insane asylum, of a common type, built on the Kirkbride Plan,. According to a marvelously titled book,  The Architecture of Madness, the very structure of the building and grounds  “designed to be beautiful and soothing to the patient, a special apparatus for the care of lunacy, highly improved and tastefully ornamented.”

When I was a child, I thought as a child, wandering around an edifice, a special apparatus designed to create or control powerful emotions. The Hudson River State Hospital certainly had that effect on me. Now I will see it face to face.

(Days Twenty-one through Twenty-five) Mumford Country

Lewis Mumford, born in 1895, is a hero. He died in 1990 in a little house in Amenia, New York–a home that, for no good reason–is not an historic landmark today. Traipsing through in 1915,  Herbert Welsh, in The New Gentleman of the Road, praised Amenia only as “a favorite resting place for automobilists.”

Lewis MumfordHistorian, sociologist, philosopher, and literary critic, Mumford is best remembered for his study of cities and urban architecture, but was, above all else,  a writer.

My attraction to the writer Mumford has a history, and that story has a theme, that can best be described as “Mumfordian.”

I’m a country boy. Grew up working on the farm and in the forests, hiking and camping for fun:  rural peace and bucolic quiet came to me as second nature. But in the 60s, the metropolis felt as close as the TV set and The New York Times, and I choose to live today in a mess of a big old American city. The tension between City and Country dominated Lewis Mumford’s work–as well as my life.

CityInHistoryI discovered Mumford when I was in college–in a used bookstore, not a classroom. The City in History (1961, and still in print) is, in its author’s words, a “book that opens with a city that was, symbolically, a world: it closes with world that has become, in many practical aspects, a city.” Here was a topic that ranged wide enough to suit my imagination. The writer Mumford was, and is, too much a generalist, a polymath, to get much academic credit. He never earned a college degree, although later in life he taught at several universities–he once called himself “a professor of things in general,” a course I would have signed up for with joy.

At Amherst College in the 70s, Mumford was wholly absent from the curriculum.  I knew that Amherst was never going to be a scholarly home to me–the scholarship grant that generously financed my education proved, oddly enough, a hindrance to any academic scholarship. I was drawn to this un-credentialed and un-tenured teacher, who also seemed to take seriously such country matters–in all senses– as I had learned at home, in New Hampshire.

If you have no inkling of Lewis Mumford and his many books, I suggest you watch an evocative and nostalgic film that he created in 1939, for the New York World’s Fair. It’s called “The City,” but you will see that it nevertheless spends a lot of time in “The Country.”

Mumford was an early advocate of Regionalism, and the region where he spent most if his life was, in fact,  The Reaches of New York City (1939).  The City he loved; and The Country, but his distaste for Suburbia was profound:

The end product is an encapsulated life, spent more and more either in a motor car or within the cabin of darkness before a television set: soon, with a little more automation of traffic, mostly in a motor car, travelling even greater distances, under remote control, so that the one-time driver may occupy himself with a television set, having lost even the freedom of steering wheel. Every part of this life, indeed, will come through official channels and be under supervision. Untouched by human hand at one end: untouched by human spirit at the other. Those who accept this existence might as well be encased in a rocket hurtling through space, so narrow are their choices, so limited and deficient their permitted responses. Here indeed we find ‘The Lonely Crowd.’

The greatest 20th-century American urbanist made pastoral Amenia, New York, his home: this is where died in 1990. Twenty-five years on, Amenia is a suburb of New York City, as is most of the range of my great walk. Must we always rhyme, as I did when I was young,  the very word “suburb” with “subdued,” “dumb” and dull?” I hope not. I hope my feet, as I walk, map out a better way.

Mumford’s biographer Donald Miller describes Leedsville, New York,

…the upstate hamlet where he had been living for thirty-six years [since 1936] with his family, in a simple wooden farmhouse tow miles or so from Amenia, an old iron-making center not much larger than Emerson’s Concord. Here, in a tiny study off his book-lined living room–a monk’s cell, really–he had done most of his best work; for while he loved the variety and velocity of the city, country living suited him better. In slow-moving Leedvsville he lived a life in line with his temperament, writing in the mornings and walking, sketching and gardening in the afternoons.

Mumford Home, Amenia
Mumford Home, Amenia

No record shows that Mumford ever even considered the 90 mile stroll to or from Manhattan.  Even from Poughkeepsie, whence I’ll be coming, Amenia is a long walk.  I will visit Mumford’s home on my way. The simple message of Mumfordian Regionalism is also the truth of my walk: no country without the city, no city without country. Walking, you come to know that the city is both very far from, and also very near, the countryside.

Bewteen the Woods and the Water

It looked like a dull and dusty road. Fifty miles from the Delaware to to the Hudson, over country that seemed flat and useless. I expected a desert of the imagination. I should have known better.

Screen shot 2015-03-19 at 10.49.58 AMLate last night, as I perused my favorite map, The Reaches of New York City 1939, an all-but-buried label caught my eye.  It’s a busy map, and well worth reading. (Some people read detective novels for pleasure, I prefer old maps.) This part of the world once was called “The Drowned Lands.”

Now that is a Romantic notion: Drowned Lands! I’m reminded of The Polymath, who warned Patrick Leigh Fermor in A Time Of Gifts that

“Everything is going to vanish! They talk of building power dams across the Danube and I tremble whenever I think of it! They’ll make the wildest river in Europe as tame as a municipal waterworks. All those fish from the East–they will never come back! Never, never, never!”

Fermo9781590171660_jpg_90x450_q85r returned to the Danube, and the prediction of The Polymath, in  Between the Woods and the WaterHe had continued his walk to the Iron Gates in 1938, but wrote this second volume at a time (1977) when “progress has placed the whole of this landscape underwater.”  The theme of the vanishing landscape haunts him, as if it were a blue Danube walk. He laments even that the dam-makers have carefully removed and reconstructed the drowned mosques and cathedrals on higher ground.

No imaginative or over-romantic traveler will ever be in danger of thinking he hears the call to prayer rising from the depths and he will be spared the illusion of drowned bells, like those of Ys, the cathédrale engloutie  off the Breton coast; or those of the legendary city of Kitezh, near the middle Volga, hard by Nizhni-Novgorod.  Poets and storytellers say that it vanished underground during the invasion of Batu Khan. Later it was swallowed up in lake and chosen listeners can sometimes hear its bells tolling from the drowned towers .

But not here: myths, lost voices, history and hearsay have all been put to rout, leaving nothing but this valley of the shadow.

I love the casual way Fermor encyclopedically tosses off a series of irresistible stories. He and The Polymath may be lamenting a sort of drowned land different from the formerly malarial miasmas of Orange County, New York. Drowned lands can also refer to riverine lowlands dammed and flooded, for flood control, power or drinking water. The Walkilll Valley was long thought to be a place that needed drying out. (Its history–and a fascinating contemporary controversy, are explained by Fred Isseks and his students in an excellent blog, called Garbage, Gangsters and Greed.)

The kind of flooded places that I know well, and plan to visit on my walk, are such underwater towns as Enfield, Dana, Prescott and Greenwich in Western Massachusetts where I went to school, or East Weare Village in New Hampshire where I grew up. But before all this modern dam-building, drowned lands meant seasonally flooded areas, like the Walkill Valley I’ll be passing through in May.

The swamps of North America, whether they have been dredged and drained or dammed and flooded today, were not always abandoned as lost lands. Hunting, trapping and fishing, the Native Americans swarmed these swamps. (Arrowheads and artifacts still abound.)  The early white settler-farmers did not consider the natural flow of the Walkill a good thing. Here is the 1875 report of the New Jersey State Geologist:

The extreme breadth of these lands is four miles,- and their area is 25,600 acres, of which 15,600 acres are in New York, and 10,000 acres in New Jersey. Through the entire course of the stream in these lands the fall is less than three inches to the mile, and the current is scarcely perceptible. After heavy falls of rain the stream becomes swollen and overflows its banks, and these lands are soon covered with water,remaining so for weeks together. In the present condition of the stream there is no chance for improvement; ditches are of little use for lack of an outlet, and nearly the whole of this area is ruined for the best agricultural uses. Some of the land is in swamp; other parts are attached to farms, and coarse and sour grass is gathered from them, when the seasons are not too wet. Along the borders of the upland, some of this ground is cropped, and fine returns are obtained, but the greater part of the area is utterly useless.

Screen shot 2015-03-19 at 10.36.38 AMBy November 1941, the drowned lands had found a new and less useless place, as recounted in the pages of the National Geographic Magazine.  Dorothea D. and Fred Everett contributed Black Acres: A Thrilling Sketch in the Vast Volume of Who’s Who Among the Peoples who Make America,  with photographs of their adopted home in The Drowned Lands.

The color plates display exotic peasants digging ditches, planting onions, blessing the onion seeds in their churches (no onion domes are depicted), eating onions, celebrating onions in old-world dances, and wearing costumes that Patrick Leigh Fermor would have described lovingly. These were recent European immigrants, mainly from Poland, who had drained the swamps and made the desert bloom. The Black Dirt Region of New York State–as it is now christened–had become a major producer of onions, the “wine-scented and poetic soul of the capacious salad bowl,” in the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, whom the Everetts quote, romantically. They write

At night the toilers come home black with dirt but happy. Week ends they clean up and gather for a few hours dancing to their own Polish band music. For more than two years we lived across a small valley from their woodland park, and often the summer breezes wafted to us their sprightly tunes.

The swamps are being drained and cleared at an ever-increasing rate. In 1930 some 3,00 acres were in use; in 1939, 6,800; and in 1940 , about 9,000. At this rate the total area of 26,000 acres will soon be under cultivation.

And so it is now, according to contemporary accounts. I want to explore this land myself, and also investigate the irony that the public health of the Drowned Lands is today more threatened by an out-of-control landfill than a malarial swamp.

From these lovable people we have heard many stories brought over from the Old Country, legends based on superstition. Favorite subjects are the balls of fire seen dancing through the swamps on dark nights. Scientists, of course, have an explanation, but to simple folk such phenomena are weird omens.

These ancient sorceries reminded me vaguely of the Danube–was it Patrick Leigh Fermor who told a chilling tale of the watery intervale on the old river below Vienna? No, it was a lesser light I recalled: Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951), a master of the Edwardian ghost story, and author of “The Willows” (1907).images

“The Willows” is my favorite ghost story; it was H.P. Lovecraft’s, too. The horror is terrifyingly restrained. It is a simple story of two young men on a canoe trip on the Danube, who find a dead body among the the drowned islands of Austria-Hungary:

After leaving Vienna, and long before you come to Budapest, the Danube enters a region of singular loneliness and desolation, where its waters spread away on all sides regardless of a main channel, and the country becomes a swamp for miles upon miles, covered by a vast sea of low willow-bushes. On the big maps this deserted area is painted in a fluffy blue, growing fainter in color as it leaves the banks, and across it may be seen in large straggling letters the word Sumpfe, meaning marshes.

In high flood this great acreage of sand, shingle-beds, and willow-grown islands is almost topped by the water, but in normal seasons the bushes bend and rustle in the free winds, showing their silver leaves to the sunshine in an ever-moving plain of bewildering beauty.

The only source of their dread is that dead body, and the sound of the incessant wind in the willows, But Blackwood is a master of the uncanny, of finding the fear in everyday events. Unseen and unseeable beings surround the lads–as one of them says, ” We happen to have camped in a spot where their region touches ours, where the veil between has worn thin.”

Herbert Welsh, whose footsteps I’ll be following in May, also dabbled in spiritualism, and sought to pierce that veil between worlds–there is a miscellaneous file of “Psychic Interests (1926)” among his collected papers, which I have yet to explore. It consists of letters from corespondents who have tell of weird omens of the other side.

No road, by the way, is dull, once you start down it.


A Time of Gifts

In the indispensable walk book A Time of Gifts 9781590171653_jpg_200x450_q85(1977) Patrick Leigh Fermor introduces a character he calls The Polymath. Fermor, eighteen years old and drummed out of his English school, set off on foot for Constantinople in 1933. It was as audacious as it sounds.

A voracious reader and autodidact, young Fermor commands enough language skills to complete his education along the way. He stops at the castles of Europe’s diminishing aristocracy–he himself is of the right sort and knows people–where his delight at discovering a library that holds the Encyclopedia Britannica, Meyers Konversations-Lexikon or the Larousse XIXème Siècle is only matched when he wanders into Danubian tavern and encounters a learned “man in loden.”

I had chanced on a gold mine! ‘Enquire within about everything’: flora, fauna, history, literature, music, archaeology–it was a richer source than any castle library…He had a delightful Bohemian scholar-gispy touch.

The Polymath tells Fermor the story of the Goths, the Vandals, and also the Macromanni and the Quadi in Central European history,, and, by extension, to the reader. This reader agrees with Fermor when he exclaims “This is the way to be taught history!” From an inhabitant of a Danubian castle, drawing maps of migrations on the tablecloth after a second bottle of Langenlois.

Fermor actually wrote A Time of Gifts forty years later. The Polymath may be a composite character of the kind common to memoirs; he may be a reflection of Fermor himself.  The adult writer had now learned some flora, fauna, history, literature, music, archaeology, but ascribed them to a character. (The contrast is sharp with a writer/walker such as W. G. Sebald, whose narrator in The Rings of Saturn simply watches his thoughts turn to, say, a detailed history of the Chinese silk industry as he wanders the coast of Norfolk.)

Truth be told, Fermor, like Sebald, like me, aspires to be a polymath, or, at least, a Bohemian scholar-gipsy. I want to know it all, and to write about it all. When Sebald’s publisher in England asked what category–fiction, travel, memoir, essay– he would like to put his book in, the author replied, “All of them.”

Indians (II) : Walking the Trail

There is at least one American path, heading from East to West, leading neither into the possibility of the future, nor the morning of the world and of humanity. In the 1830s, we the people of the United States removed tens of thousands of Native Americans from their homes in the southeast and sent them marching west to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Thousands died, along what is now known as the Trail of Tears.

Jerry Ellis, a Alabaman writer of Cherokee heritage, walked back to Alabama from Oklahoma and wrote Walking the TrialWalkingTheTrail in 1991.  It’s a exemplary walking book, mixing memoir and desire, the political and the personal, historical epic and sore feet. Ellis rambles some, but he stays on his path. He meets a representative sample of Americans on the way, some who know more about the trials and tribulations of his ancestors than Ellis; some who live next to the Trail and have never heard of it.

A fascinating digression: Ellis falls in love. Looking for a place to sleep, he wanders, with trepidation, into a Christian hippie commune in Missouri. “Zion’s Order” is one of those pure products of America that thrive under wide horizons and religious freedom. Venda is a young woman who was born and raised within the compound.

Jerry meets Venda, and they fall in love, in a stumbling unconsummated romance–a story too real for fiction. Like Ellis’s writing and walking, his love affair somehow melds deep meaning and random events.  Its sudden starts, twists and stops seem less literary than literal: I believed in this strange assignation, because it seemed absurd.

Following this walk and such stories, I found myself humming the songs of The Old, Weird America, that invisible republic that Greil Marcus and Harry Smith repopulated, largely with the ghosts of black folk and criminals. But there are also Native spirits in the air–after all, Smith, “As a schoolboy, swirling in the irregular orbits of his parents’ religion, their fantasies, their poverty and delusions of grandeur, … discovered the local Indian tribes.”

That was years before Smith ever walked the Mississippi Delta, listening for America. Jerry Ellis meets some strange folks, as he crosses Arkansas, Missouri, the odd corner of Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee, making his way home. He hears strange tales–not the least strange, as he tells more of it: the forgotten concentration camps, ethnic cleansing and genocide of his native land. The tales of my land include incest and insanity; but nothing is too weird for America.

I’ll be scouting for evidence of Native America as I walk in May. Not just because  Hebert Welsh, whose footsteps I’m walking in, was an Indian rights advocate. But because it’s “as if the earth under our feet / were / an excrement of some sky” in the words of William Carlos Williams, and it is a Native Sky.

Indians (I)

If the British tradition sees walking as a kind of recovery, while the American tradition is about walking as discovery, maybe the real American way is more about covery–covering up past crimes. The boundless American future has always been predicated on the emptiness of its past, specifically, the pre-Columbian emptiness of the North American landscape.  The New World, it was once said, lacked history and inhabitants: terra nullius. The old world walker can wander Druid wonderways, trace an ancient pilgrimage, or tramp castle-to-castle down the Danube. If an American pedestrian wants to contemplate ruins, or wonder who walked this path before him, he has to consider the American Indians.

Herbert Welsh’s obituary in the New York Times (June 31, 1941) left no doubt that he had spent his life thinking of them: “FRIEND OF INDIANS”

Screen shot 2015-02-24 at 12.18.30 PM

“The Red Man,” as the Times obituary writer was not ashamed to call him in 1941, had been driven West across the continent, but not from the pages of The New Gentleman of the Road. Stopping in in Milford, Pennsylvania in 1924, and feeling nostalgic about an eariuer excursion, Welsh wrote:

I have another and less pleasant recollection of that summer spent in Milford, in the form of a little monument, a shaft of gray stone, set up through the enthusiasm and energy of a Presbyterian pastor, then resident in the town, to record the virtues of Tom Quick, one of the early settlers of that region. If I remember correctly, — I am open to correction, — this pioneer of Anglo-Saxon civilization had, by his trusty rifle, the old muzzle-loader pea-ball pattern, caused the death of no less than 40 Indians — men, women, and children. He lay in wait for them and picked them off from behind bushes or trees on every convenient opportunity. This was under lex talionis, — lawyers will amend my Latin, if it needs the same, — as Tom’s father had been shot by an Indian. My white brother seems to have gotten more than even with his adversary. I can understand Tom Quick’s feeling and his method of expressing it, but what has always puzzled me was to understand the school of theology to which the Presbyterian pastor belonged who felt called on to raise a monument to a hero of that type.

1889 “Tom Quick the Indian Slayer”

The Tom Quick Monument, destroyed by vandals–heroes of Welsh’s type, perhaps– in 1997, was recently restored. Progressive thinkers have added an interpretive plaque, explanation, if not an excuse, for the benighted, earlier, commemoration of  “a hero of that type.” I want to see it for myself, because it is somewhat hard to figure out on the Web just what it looks like today. (A postmodern species of Robert Musil’s “invisible monument.”)

An indefatigable fundraiser, Welsh’s travel memoir also recorded meetings on his walk with donors to, and supporters of, the Indian Rights Association he had founded in 1882.  Welsh visited the Sioux Reservations that year, and recorded his impressions in Four Weeks Among some of the Sioux Tribes of Dakota and Nebraska. Trained as an artist, Welsh evinced a Romantic faith in the potential of the Indians to acquire “civilization.” I won’t try to explain all his complex opinions about the Native Americans here. That is well done in a dry, but exhaustive, book, The Indian Rights Association: The Herbert Welsh Years 1882-1904 (1985).  The historian William T. Hagan highlighted this line from Four Weeks:

The Indians at Rosebud quite unconsciously presented to us a series of brilliant pictures, with a touch of the Orient about them, which might have inspired the genius of a Delacroix or Decamp.

Eugène Delacroix, Les Natchez 1835 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Les Natchez 1835

I note not merely the Romanticism, but the literal Orientalism, with which Welsh quite unconsciously observed the Natives. The Indian Rights Association was assimilationist, and committed to Christian education and private ownership of land among them.

The IRA had been founded…

… with the object of acquainting the people of our country with the actual condition and needs of the Indians, and of so enlightening public sentiment as to ensure adequate support for legislative and executive measures for securing and protecting the just rights of the Indians, and maintaining the government’s faith plighted to them in treaties.

Delaware Nation Map of The Walking Purchase 1737

That faith in treaties did not seem much on Welsh’s mind as he strolled the banks of the Delaware River, where a shameful, if non-violent appropriation of Native land by the Quaker State had taken place in 1737: the infamous Walking Purchase.

The Delaware (Lenni Lenape) Indians of Pennsylvania were convinced by Thomas Penn, a son of William, that the white folks had found an old deed. In 1686, Penn said, his ancestors and the Indians’ had agreed to sell the Quakers a tract of land upland from the Delaware River, “As far as a man can walk in a day and a half.” I pick up the story from Harry Emerson Wildes (The Delaware, 1940)

All was ready for official measurements. The “Walking Purchase” was to made in the fall of 1737. There was a difference in in point of view, however, as to the methods to be used. According to Indian interpretation, a friendly party of whites and Indians would set out, strolling leisurely in gentlemanly fashion, until thirty-six hours had elapsed. There would be frequent rests for food and smoking, and the day would be limited to the time the sun was visible.

Sounds like the kind of walk up the Delaware that I would enjoy.

Thomas Penn had other views. He combed the colony for young and wiry woodsmen. Selecting … the best athletes to be found, he trained them well and ordered them to make themselves thoroughly familiar with the route. They were instructed secretly to blaze a trail through the woods, and to clear it of all underbrush.

"Penn's Athletes Win a Province"
“Penn’s Athletes Win a Province”

Penn’s athletes made it into a competition, built their own track, and won. The Lenape were pushed west and landed in Indian Territory, Oklahoma, where Welsh would have found them in the early 20th century. In the early 21st, as late as 2006, the Delaware were asking the United States Court of Appeal, 3rd Circuit for relief from the fraud. They failed, on an interesting interpretation involving sovereignity.

I want to keep the natives in mind as I walk in May, in part because I want to walk and write in the British tradition, and recover something. Do any traces of Ancient America remain along my path?